Judge Temporarily Bars Removal of Picasso Tapestry

February 9, 2014 

© 2014 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK - A distinguished tenant of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue for more than 50 years will avoid eviction for at least a month, after a Manhattan judge’s ruling Friday. The tenant is not a person or a business, but “Le Tricorne,” a large curtain painted by Pablo Picasso that has decorated the Four Seasons Restaurant since its opening in 1959.

Justice Matthew F. Cooper of New York state Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction barring RFR Holdings, the real estate company that owns the Seagram Building, from moving the painting. The company had announced plans in late January to remove the painting early Sunday, much to the dismay of the New York Landmark Conservancy, which owns the work.

Peg Breen, president of the conservancy, said in an interview Saturday that art conservation experts hired by the conservancy warned her that moving the brittle tapestry, which stretches 20 feet across, could destroy it. Breen said that if “Le Tricorne” had to be moved, the experts recommended a process “that would take at least eight working days that would move it slowly and carefully.” RFR’s plan called for moving the painting significantly faster. At a hearing Friday, Breen said, Andrew Kratenstein, RFR’s “attorney, said, ‘If we break it, we'll buy it.’ In fact he repeated it in court.”

In email messages Saturday, Kratenstein did not comment on his words at the hearing, but said RFR would submit a full briefing to the judge before the official March 11 court hearing.

“'Le Tricorne' is not part of the internal landmark designation of the Seagram Building and thus the tapestry can be removed,” he said in the email.

“As owner of the building and in reliance on the advice of professionals, RFR has determined that the tapestry should be removed from the wall so that necessary work can be done,” he added. “RFR believes that the tapestry can be removed from the wall safely through a careful process that had been scheduled to take approximately eighteen hours.”

On Friday, Cooper said he felt differently about the matter.

“I don’t want to be the judge who has a Picasso destroyed,” he said, according to The Daily News. “If some damage were to occur, no amount of money could make up for the loss of any Picasso.”

The dispute over the Picasso tapestry comes as the Four Seasons and Aby J. Rosen, the developer who controls the building, are in the midst of rent negotiations that could cause the restaurant to leave the building.

Breen said that Rosen, who is a prominent art collector and chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts, first contacted her in November about removing “Le Tricorne.” Rosen did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

RFR told The New York Times this month that it wanted to remove the painting after engineers told the company to repair the wall from which it hangs. Breen said that engineers the conservancy hired had determined that the walls were slightly displaced and the best course of action would be to monitor them.

“Le Tricorne,” painted in 1919 for the Ballets Russes, is widely considered integral to the landmark interior of the Four Seasons, designed by Philip Johnson, and the Seagram Building, built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (The painting did not receive landmark designation because it is not part of the building’s architecture.) Its value was appraised at $1.6 million by Christie’s in 2008.

(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)

“It is part of the experience of anyone entering the building,” the architecture critic Paul Goldberger argued in an appeal to preserve the painting on Vanity Fair’s website Friday. “It is so identified with the space that the corridor has always been known as ‘Picasso Alley.’”

Rosen has considered the nexus of art and architecture for some time. He addressed the issue as it pertained to the Seagram Building in an interview with the real estate publication “The Real Deal.” He cited owning the Seagram and Lever House as his greatest business accomplishments, adding, “They are basically pieces of art. It fits exactly what I want to do - meld the art and the architecture together.”

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